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The Revolution in the Federal States

The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1218, p. 181.

August 22, 1863


At the very outburst of the great civil war in America it was predicted that the attempt of the North to subjugate the South--whatever might be its effect upon the seceding States--would inevitably lead to the overthrow of Northern liberty. A huge debt, an immense standing army, and a centralised Government were all necessary to the prosecution of a scheme so stupendous; and that the Republican freedom of which the Americans were always so ready to boast could coexist with these was so manifestly impossible that the best friends of the North were those who most earnestly deprecated the war. But the desire of the Northern people for the unity of the Republic--to be maintained at all hazards and at any sacrifice--was then, and is now, so passionately unreasonable as to have blinded them to all the consequences of the struggle--consequences alike fatal to the real dignity, greatness, and happiness of the North, whether it fail or succeed in its object. Twenty years ago, when the disruption of the Union was publicly discussed, as not only among the probabilities but the certainties of the future, the most eminent Americans of both sections were of opinion, not only that the separation would be peaceably effected--like the dissolution of a partnership that has ceased to be either agreeable or profitable--but that it would be for the advantage of all concerned. The South imagined that it could successfully carry on a system of government based upon the patriarchal model; and, while enriching itself and taking care of its negroes, solve the problem of labour without entailing the chronic pauperism that curses it in the old world, where the aged and worn-out labourer has no claims upon those who employed him while he was young and strong. The North, on the other hand, not only looked upon disruption without disfavour, but continually threatened it, in order by that means to free itself from the stigma of the slavery which it had neither the right nor the power to abolish. So recently as the election of Mr. Lincoln the best minds in the North were of this opinion. Even Mr. Seward--all his life an opponent of slavery--proclaimed officially, as Secretary of State, in circulars to his Ambassadors to be communicated to foreign Powers, that coercion of the South was a policy alike suicidal and unconstitutional. Mr. Everett, formerly Minister to the Court of St. James', declared the same sentiments. Mr. Horace Greeley, of the Tribune, one of the ablest and most honest leaders of the Abolitionist and Republican party, was in favour of letting the South depart peaceably, as the best means of restoring the purity of the flag which, while it was a flag that protected slavery, he had declared to be "a flaunting lie" and "a polluted rag," unworthy to be unfurled in the free sunshine. Had this prudent course been adopted the North would have escaped a mountain of debt and a national bankruptcy, a standing army, which will of necessity trample out its liberties, and that maximised form of Government which is but another name for despotism. Possibly, too, if this policy of masterly inactivity had been pursued, the South, after a short probation of independence, might have found it to be its interest, for commercial and other reasons, to sue for readmission into the federation from which it had withdrawn; and the Union would have been restored without the enkindling of hateful passions, or the shedding of a single drop of blood.

But this was not to be. A whirlwind of excitement arose. The Northern people were carried away by it, and nothing would satisfy them but the subjugation of their brothers. One by one, the prudent statesmen, such as Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Seward, Mr. Everett, Mr. Greeley, and others, became infected with the madness of the crowd. The voice of Reason was silenced. The sword was made the arbiter of questions that no sword can decide. Battle succeeded battle, with no other result than the slaughter of hecatombs on both sides,--battles that settled nothing, and only proved the martial valour of both peoples. And what a scandal it was that two such brave combatants should not have learned that the subjugation of either was impossible. For two years the North has been in this impasse. Sometimes losing, sometimes winning, it is at this moment as far off as ever from the accomplishment of its designs. The South, with no advantage except that of "immortal hate"--which is a better provocative

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of valour than all the wealth and bounty-money in the world--has maintained the contest with a heroism that has carried men's hearts captive with admiration; and the North, with everything on its side--riches, numbers, command of the sea, and possession of the legitimate Government--finds itself engaged in an undertaking which all the true friends of liberty in every part of the civilised earth, except in Washington, consider to be utterly hopeless.

But, while the North has done little or nothing to end the war, it has done much to end its own liberty. The Government established by George Washington has ceased to exist. The Constitution founded by the Fathers of the Republic has been abrogated on the plea of military necessity, and can never again be restored. Mr. Buchanan was the last President of the United States. Mr. Lincoln is the President of a geographical division, and of a sectional party even in that. Martial law prevails everywhere except in New York, New Jersey, the six little States of New England--and remote California, too distant to suffer by or take any interest in the illogical and murderous conflict. In all other portions of the broad domain the discretion of a Provost Marshal, or a blundering dragoon suddenly converted into a Dictator, supersedes all law. The Courts are powerless. The press is under a surveillance stricter than that of France or Austria. Men are torn from their beds at midnight and consigned to military prisons, without the intervention of judge or jury or the specification of any real or supposed offence. In contravention of the fundamental laws of the Federation and of every State that comprises it, a forcible conscription of the young men has been ordered; and the project of the utter destruction of the sovereign rights of the States--the abolition of local Parliaments and their reduction to the position of English counties or French departments, is openly avowed by the organs of the Administration, and strenuously advocated as the only means of preventing a new secession and the breaking up of the North and West into half a dozen or more Republics. The public debt is known to amount to 400 millions of pounds sterling, and is suspected, on sufficient reason, to be 50 per cent in excess of this frightful sum. Everywhere are to be found the elements of disorder and anarchy; and everywhere the easy-going people, the sordid traders, the merchants, the professional men--everybody, in fact, who desires to grow rich in a country where nothing but wealth is held in esteem, where public virtue is a scoff and genius the target of contemptuous unpopularity--are calling out for a "King Government" as the one thing needful. The "King Government" will come. The way is prepared for it. The new election for President will be the election of a dictator, carried on, perhaps, under the forms of the law, but with armed soldiers at every polling-place, to take care that the choice of the soldiers be, or seem to be, the choice of the people. One thing, perhaps, might even yet save the liberties of the Northern people--peace and a commercial alliance with the South. But the Government, deficient in generosity as in intellect, is powerless to make the offer. There is no man of sufficient intellect, honesty, and courage in the Administration even to suggest such a solution of an otherwise insoluble difficulty. The President is as obstinate as a Stuart, and as conceited as a Bourbon. He learns nothing from experience, and has neither the sense to see the right, nor the courage to do it. Nor is there a single man in his councils more sagacious or more patriotic than himself. Alas, poor America!

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